Sep 24, 2015 :: by Leila Raabe
With all the love Piper has seen this week—new colors, a new cardigan, and now Rebecca's gorgeous shawl—we thought it would be fun to go back in time to the start of our journey with this triumphantly Texan yarn and the story behind it. Fitting, also, as designer Rebecca Velasquez is herself a native of the state.
Below are excerpts from Pam's entries from June of 2014, when Piper first came to be.
You could be forgiven for thinking at first glance, as I did, that these little guys are sheep. They’re not. They’re Angora goats and they live in Texas. Did you know that not that long ago Texas was mohair capital of the world? No longer, sadly. We’ve gone from exporting 35,000,000 pounds of mohair fiber to barely a million. And along with the loss of our mohair goats, we’ve lost the ancillary industries: Processing, carding, spinning, dyeing. All those good things. That said, some of the finest mohair in the world is still raised in Texas. And we’re making a yarn out of it.
When we started Quince & Co, the idea was to make yarns from American fiber in American mills. We do that. But until now, our wool has come from a commercial broker and we can’t be more specific about it than “it comes from any number of states west of the Mississippi.” Not so Piper. Piper is a TEXAS yarn, quite literally born and bred there. Can I tell you how that makes my heart beat faster?
Angora goats first arrived in Texas in the mid-1800′s. Legend has it that these goats and their fiber were prized by the sultans of Turkey. One in particular offered them as gifts to the royalty of Europe. However, he took care to export only neutered goats in order to maintain his country’s exclusive hold on the animal. Somehow or other, a pregnant goat was included in one of the shipments. And, well, that was that.
The vast, arid turf in the western Texas hills was the perfect habitat for roaming goats who can subsist on very little. They multiplied. Over time, the fiber from these curly goats became a major product in Texas. And all the attendant businesses that go with fiber–farm labor, shearers, warehouses, processing plants, carding, combing, spinning, brokers–were a big part of the region’s economy. Today, things have changed.
Goats nibble on anything growing on the ground and can subsist on scrubby thistle, like the plant above, hoarhound, and even tree bark.
Because of the current draught, there’s little plant life around, and more prosperous ranchers buy hay to feed their herds.
As we drove along small highways through ranch country, we saw new tall fences that have replaced the old shorter ones. Our guide pointed out the difference and explained that many ranchers have succumbed to the demand for game hunting. It’s easier to import wild boar and other exotic animals from Africa and get paid to let sportsmen spend the day crouching around the tundra shooting these creatures. Ridiculous as it seems (sorry, I’m biased), hunting ranches are now big business in Texas.
Occasionally, these imported animals escape from their confines and find new places to roam. Depending on which animal it is, they can have an impact, or not, on goats. The owner drives around in his truck with a pair of binoculars on the seat next to him, at the ready when he spots the growing deer herd. He mentions that he could make a lot of money if he allowed hunters on his property. But a glimpse of the delicate beauty of these fleet deer through the lens of his binoc’s is pleasure enough for him.
Not all imports are as benign as African deer. Escaped wild pigs are devastating to baby goat herds. They eat literally every part of the goat between the head and the hoofs. We spoke to one rancher who lost 300 kids this year, many to these non-native pigs. It used to be that Mexicans came and went across a porous border to work on the goat ranches and kid mortality wasn’t much of an issue. Now, ranchers are on their own. And dogs are the only affordable way to protect a ranchers herd. We spoke to another rancher who said that domestic dogs are also a predator, as well as the occasional dog owner.
Baby goats are vulnerable as well in other ways. Angora goats aren’t great mothers. They often abandon their kids when they roam in open territory. Our rancher built small plywood ‘rooms’ near his barn for bonding purposes. When a goat delivers a kid, he puts the two of them in this little house for a few weeks in order for mom and baby to get to know each other.
Reading about the origins and journey of these animals and their fiber gives me a greater appreciation for the yarn in my hands. As lovely as Piper is to work with already, this extra dimension of the fiber's start here in the US makes it that much more meaningful to me, personally. I may have to dust off my crochet hook and start a Gated shawl of my own.